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Jul 27, 2023 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Summer wellbeing highlights: evidence, learnings and analysis from 2023

Over the last few months we’ve been finding, sharing and growing wellbeing evidence and supporting its use in practice. We have continued to work closely with partners across academia, government, business and the VCSE sector to answer key questions on what works to improve wellbeing.

Here, we’re bringing together our recent learnings in our focus areas of national wellbeing measures and methods, places and community, working age and business, and loneliness and connection.


National wellbeing measures and methods

Our work has shown the need for greater consistency and comparability of measures and concepts, in order to improve use and understanding of wellbeing data and measures.

Moving the evidence base forward

  • Learnings from time use data – Our research Fellow Elena Mylona discussed what capturing how we use our time can tell us about wellbeing. She summarised insights and outputs from her analysis of lockdown and non lockdown – conducted in partnership with University College London’s Centre for Time Use Research.

Turning evidence into action

  • Plugging data gaps  – We worked with Pro Bono Economics to produce an updated version of our guide, which helps charities assess their wellbeing impact even if they aren’t specifically capturing wellbeing data.

Leading the conversation and amplifying wider findings

  • Using the updated UK Measures of National Wellbeing – We helped inform the ONS’ review, which resulted in the first ever update of UK measures of wellbeing. We summarised highlights from the review and explored how to use this data in practice. You can also find out what recent ONS data from May 2023 tells us about how we’re doing.
  • We promoted two examples of organisations gathering, using and acting on wellbeing data – turning evidence into action:
    –  The charity Tearfund adapted the UK derived Wellbeing-adjusted Life Year (WELLBY) to an international context, evaluating their programmes across Africa. Bethany Sikes, a researcher from Tearfund, outlined this pioneering approach and Rose Fawcett, a research consultant from State of Life, shared how WELLBY was converted.
    Power2 delivers programmes to support children and young people. CEO, Julie Randles, talked us through how the charity uses the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBs) to demonstrate impact.

Places and community

The places where we live, work and spend time, as well as the people we meet there, have an impact on our wellbeing. We explore how this type of wellbeing can be understood, measured and built.

Moving the evidence base forward

  • Community agency and control rapid review – Our Community Wellbeing Lead Stewart Martin presented new research findings and outputs from our latest research; looking at community wellbeing and what happens when people come together locally.

Leading the conversation and amplifying wider findings

  • Family wellbeing – In response to the report, ‘Love Matters’, we considered the significance of family wellbeing as an area for research and policy, including the current evidence gaps and next steps.
  • What we know about volunteering – The Big Help Out volunteering initiative began in May, so we asked experts in the field to share what the evidence tells us about the benefits of volunteering.
  • #BeeWell year two – Nancy Hey, our Executive Director, took us through headline findings from the annual survey of secondary school children in Greater Manchester.

Loneliness and connection

Social connections are consistently found to be the strongest drivers of wellbeing, individually and collectively. As such, tackling loneliness and promoting positive connections are key priorities for our work. 

Moving the evidence base forward

  • For Loneliness Awareness Week in June – We covered key concepts including social connection, discussed our work since 2018 growing the loneliness evidence base and released new findings. 
  • See insights from five British longitudinal studies – The work by Professor Praveetha Patalay explored social isolation trends across time and between different generations.
  • New insights into loneliness in young people – We released findings from our project led by Dr. Emily Long. It suggested strong links between loneliness, mental health and wellbeing. It pointed to how places, spaces and communities can adapt to better protect young people from loneliness.

Leading the conversation and amplifying wider findings

  • New report: The State of Loneliness 2023 – The Campaign to End Loneliness, which the Centre hosts, launched a publication examining ONS data and trends. It contains key findings and analysis, indicating that the number of people who are lonely is half a million more than in the first year of the pandemic.
  • What lies ahead for the next five years of loneliness? – The campaign to End Loneliness held an event in June, bringing together people from the loneliness community to discuss how we can address the issue moving forward, five years on from the last loneliness strategy.

Working age and business 

Life satisfaction peaks at 23 and 68 and is at its lowest during working life, which is why being employed and the quality of your job – matters. As such, it is important to understand what improving wellbeing at work means and how best to do this.

Turning evidence into action

  • Work and terminal illness – We summarised learnings from our project with Marie Curie and set out the next phase of our research, building a cohort of people professionals from different organisations to support the development of workplace policies.
  • We partnered with the Department for Education on work to improve staff wellbeing in schools and colleges.  Our guide to measuring staff wellbeing and developing an action plan is accompanied by downloadable staff survey templates in word and google form.

Moving the evidence base forward

  • Analysis of student wellbeing – We introduced two new reports by Evidence Associate Michael Sanders, using survey data to investigate the wellbeing and mental health of university students.
  • Using workplace data from the Civil Service – In our report we explored whether wellbeing is still on the path to recovery following the pandemic and discussed the wider value of gathering workplace wellbeing data.

Leading the conversation and amplifying wider findings

Evidence informed

This year we’re marking 10 years of the What Works Network. In April, we joined other What Works Centres at an event to celebrate this anniversary. 

Read our blog for reflections on the event, our collective achievements, what’s next, and using evidence in decision making. Find out more about our evidence informed approach in a new publication, ‘The What Works Centres: Lessons and Insights from an Evidence Movement’. In this book, different centres share their learnings on what has worked so far and what could be done better. It includes a chapter from our Executive Director Nancy Hey, ‘Measuring what matters’.

Looking ahead

As we head towards a busy autumn, updates to look out for include:

  • Our creativity review – We’ll be leading an evidence review, on behalf of University of the Arts London, to better understand the relationship between being creative and individual wellbeing.
  • The power of hope: in conversation with Carol Graham – Join us online for this insightful event on Wednesday 1 November, where we’ll be talking to the wellbeing expert, economist and author. The evening will explore the future of wellbeing measurement and what we can do to encourage hope.
  • Growing the loneliness evidence base – Keep an eye out for new developments, findings and outputs from our project, including an upcoming launch event.
  • Student wellbeing and mental health – We’ll be continuing to develop our resources and support for university students. We are also supporting Northumbria University’s work conducting qualitative research to understand what community wellbeing means to the staff and students.
  • Voluntary sector attitudes to wellbeing – We’ll be supporting the next wave of the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Observatory’s Barometer initiative, which focuses on the sector’s attitudes to wellbeing. The Barometer is a quarterly ‘temperature check’ of the sector, looking at different issues and trends.

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We always love to hear from you, so please get in touch if you’d like to collaborate with us or discuss any of our work.

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